Originally posted in the Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo

The first few weeks of class are always stressful for me. My brain is still on vacation mode and my body is used to lying down all day. Summer for teachers means waking up late and not caring about lesson plans or test papers. It means not having to strain our voices to be heard above 40 restless chatterboxes. It is a good time. And one of the best things about teaching. (I seriously believe that if people took out summer vacation from teachers and students, we’d have a lot of cases of violence in school.)

So when I come in to class on the first few weeks, it always shocks me how physically, emotionally and mentally draining my job can be. I love it. But it’s still hard. And so, I am always grateful for little things that make the burden a lot lighter and the stress more worthwhile. You see, in the past three weeks of school, I’ve had a few random acts of gratitude sent my way. And it has made all the difference.

On the first day of school, I received a long and touching email from a student who recently graduated. Basically, it said he learned much from me and he was grateful I was his teacher. I was so floored by the unexpectedness of that note, that I shed a few tears while I was sitting in my cubicle. The following week, some former students sent pastries by way of their younger siblings. The week after, I came back from a stressful class and found a present from yet another student whose note said he was forever grateful for my guidance. I don’t know how others would feel about such random acts of gratitude. But as for myself, I thrive on them. In a profession that’s often underappreciated and overlooked, I’ve found that little gestures of gratitude can keep me going far more than any monetary bonus or holiday.

I’ve found that for many people, there is a difference between being grateful and expressing that gratitude. We often demand of children that they should say “thank you” every time we do something nice for them. But we often take it for granted that we need to say those words as adults, too. Most people can feel gratitude in their hearts but never find the words to express them. But I’ve learned that gratitude, like love, needs to be expressed just as much as it needs to be heard.

Over the years, I’ve learned from my students that expressing something makes it more real. And I’ve learned, too, that expressing gratitude cultivates humility. Because it takes humility to accept the fact that without someone’s help, we really never accomplish anything. That whether we admit it or not, we are unavoidably tied to the people around us. And expressing our need for others keeps us grounded on our weaknesses.

But it can work the other way around, as well. I must admit that when people thank me for something I help them with, I often find it a bit strange. Because, deep down, I know that I have not given what was not first given to me as grace. That if I have anything to share to others, it’s only because people have shared them with me. And so, I find it much easier to say “thank you” to people who thank me rather than “you’re welcome.” (Unless of course, they’re just asking for some crackers or some tissue paper or something mundane like that!)

But all in all, expressing gratitude is basically just better for all those who are involved with it. And really, it doesn’t even cost anything at all. Just a short note, a simple email, a quick heartfelt word or two. And before you know it, you’ve made someone’s day. Just like my former students made mine. Thanks, guys.

About Nancy Unchuan Toledo

When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.

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